Monday Morning Surprise at Flight Schools

By Scott Spangler on April 29th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Monarch-6Wandering around Addison Airport, a busy Dallas-area reliever, one Monday morning in late April, I dropped in, unannounced, at the airport’s four flight schools. Given the day and hour, I assumed they wouldn’t be busy and would have time to talk. Surprise is an inadequate word to describe their bustling student activity, that they offered warm, sincere greetings when I walked through the door, and that they took time to talk, even when they learned that I wasn’t a prospective student but just curious.

Monarch Air runs a fleet of Garmin G1000-equipped Cessna 172s and a similarly-equipped flight training device. Touring the facility and ramp, the instructors were mostly in their 20s and the half-dozen students I saw ranged from an equal age to double it. Everyone seemed engrossed in their particular lessons, but the body language of both students and teachers spoke the loudest: they were serious, but having fun. Smiles and shining eyes don’t lie.

ATP-4Similar environments and teaching activity awaited me at Airline Transport Professionals (or ATP) and American Flyers. Both offer professional and personal training, and both were in session during these two visits. The students I saw at ATP looked like they were somewhere on either side of 30, except for the guy in the school’s computer testing facility. A Piper Seminole was parked on the ramp, and I assumed the student I saw briefing with his instructor would soon slide into its left seat.

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Being There: UAV Crews & Combat Valor

By Scott Spangler on April 25th, 2013 | 9 Comments »

Bowing to pressure from military and veterans groups who clearly don’t understand the rigors of combat at the controls of armed drones, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has replaced the proposed Distinguished Warfare Medal with a device that will be affixed to an existing award.

The award’s ranking relative to other military awards was part of the opponents’ complaints, but they revealed their true motivation when they called it the “Nintendo” medal. What matters most to them is “being there” in battle, and all they see are the drone pilots’ distant duty stations.

As the number of combatants suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome increases, everyone should accept that the consequences of combat are more than physical. In this regard, remote pilots and their enlisted system operators share an intimate relationship with death unequaled, except by snipers, who also see the faces of their targets.

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Sometimes Saying No is Just Plane Stupid

By Robert Mark on April 22nd, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Looking back on the decade of my life I spent working at FAA I remember one thing for certain. When someone at the agency told me “No,” the reasons were seldom clear.

“No,” might have meant something as simple as “No,” because I don’t agree with that idea or even “No,” because the idea came from me. Sometimes “No,” meant my boss didn’t know the answer and he or she didn’t want to ask anyone else. Or sometimes “No,” meant my boss actually did know the answer and it came from pretty high up so just deal with it. Of course I haven’t worked at FAA for 25 years.

FAA-Logo_thumb.jpgAs the Sunday deadline to begin controller furloughs passed last, airline passengers, business aviation operaorts and even flight training companies have no idea what’s coming next now that sequestration-induced furloughing of air traffic controllers has begun. Air traffic delays could be ugly now that FAA decided air traffic controllers are no longer essential personnel … nor are safety inspectors or the technicians that keep all the electronic gear the FAA uses up and running.

Think about that new “non-essential” ATC tag for a moment. I recall the Reason Foundation’s Bob Poole and I chatting just a few weeks ago about how ATC was considered an essential government service to people who did not support privitization. Now FAA says these folks are not really that important. The FAA never raised the issue of controllers not being essential until this week, when that move worked in their favor.

Aviation Takes Another Right to the Jaw

When FAA was asked by Airlines for America (A4A), the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and the Regional Airline Association (RAA) to take a deep breath and rethink the furloughs, perhaps the same way the FAA did (OK, they were pressured into it) the issue of contract tower closures, the agency said no, claiming they don’t have that kind of budget flexibility. We all believe that don’t we, especially when the agency somehow managed to find the cash to extend contract tower discussions until mid-June.

Of course the essential question is why aviation? That answer’s actually pretty simple.

LaHood

About now, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood is probably wondering where is replacement is.

Mr. Huerta and his team said no, because our pragmatic DOT Secretary Ray LaHood told them to say no. And of course, Mr. (did my resignation take effect yet?) LaHood takes his marching orders from the White House who has decided that aviation is the one place in the nation where the Democrat’s scolding of Republicans will have the greatest effect. Read the rest of this entry »

Instructor Academy Gives Beech a Future

By Scott Spangler on April 15th, 2013 | Comments Off

imageThe recent announcement that the American Bonanza Society and its ABS Air Safety Foundation had established the ABS Flight Instructor Academy was not only good news, it was a surprise. For some reason I’d thought that it had been around as long as ABS’s exemplary Bonanza Pilot Proficiency Program, which has been providing type-specific training for 30 years.

Perhaps it was, in an informal sharing of information among the the BPPP instructors. I took the course in 1991, and my instructor was Sandy Provenzano, 1990’s Flight Instructor of the Year, and knowledge of the F33 Bonanza I was flying surprised not only me, her knowledge revealed new insights to the airplane’s long-time owner.

The need for the ABS Instructor Academy has never been greater. Given the business travails of their maker, the Beech Bonanza, Debonair, Baron, and Travel Air are essentially orphans now. When these piston survivors are adopted by new owners, finding a qualified CFI for an in-depth checkout isn’t easy. The ABS Instructor Academy solves this problem and, given the challenges facing general aviation, groups dedicated to the support of other makes and models should take note of this solution and its mission, “to protect lives and preserve the Beechcraft fleet.”

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Dragonfly Vision & Hungry Midair Meetings

By Scott Spangler on April 8th, 2013 | 7 Comments »

Like many aviators I appreciate anything that flies whether it’s a manmade machine or product of natural selection. Among insect aeronauts the dragonfly is my favorite. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t envy its ability to rapidly fly from point to point (at speeds up to 30 mph!), make directional changes to the left, right, or reverse with the alacrity that would rip the wings off most machines, and then quick-stop into a motionless hover.

What I didn’t know, until I read  “Nature’s Drone, Pretty and Deadly” in The New York Times on April 1, is that dragonflies are “brutal aerial predators, and new research suggests they may well be the most brutally effective hunters in the animal kingdom.” Even more amazing, they do it using a skill all pilots should have learned from their instructors early in training. I won’t bore you with the details of the research (my wife has already suffered for you), but the dragonfly’s mastery of this skill enables them to snatch midair meals with a success rate of 95 percent.

Research attributes this amazing kill ratio to the dragonflies brain, eyes, and wings. It has “an almost human capacity for selective attention, able to focus on a single” bug among a cloud of fluttering insects. Other researchers have identified “a kind of master circuit of 16 neurons that connects the dragonfly’s brain to its flight motor center in the thorax.” In other words, this fly-by-wire insect can “track a moving target, calculate a trajectory to intercept that target, and subtly adjust its path as needed.”

Obviously, this is a skill combat pilots must hone to survive. And understanding the key visual concept that contributes greatly to the success of fighter pilots and dragonflies alike will help civilian pilots achieve the opposite outcome—avoiding a midair meeting, which more often than not happens within 5 miles of an airport the participants are flying toward or have just left.

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J-bot Drones Give Journalists a New View

By Scott Spangler on April 1st, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Not long ago, the periodic newsgram from my alma mater reported the birth of a new course at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Science Investigative Reporting/Drone Journalism. The nation’s first J school, now more than a century old, has always been forward thinking, so it didn’t surprise me that the course was part of the University of Missouri Drone Program, a collaboration between the J school, MU’s information technology program and its Drone Lab, and the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources.

Being J-schoolers, three seniors in the program launched a blog, The Missouri Drone Journalism Program. It tracks their progress in the class taught by Bill Allen, an assistant professor of science journalism. The three bloggers, Jaime Cooke, Zach Garcia, and Robert Partyka, write about more than learning to fly the camera-equipped J-bot drones. This is the Missouri J School, which means students learn not only how, but why and what’s legal when and where.

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See and Avoid: Airplanes and Partisan Politics

By Scott Spangler on March 25th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Since the FAA issued the list of contract towers it will close to satisfy the self-inflicted sequester, I’ve been reading a lot of wailing and gnashing and incredulous screeds of how could they? Common to everything I’ve read so far is the pointy fingered whine of put-upon victims. Let’s get real here. We got what we voted for. All of us.

AIMOur elected officials—all of them—embody the ideological narcissism that has, over the past three decades, grown bitter in many of us and turned America’s future into a zero-sum game. If one side can’t win, it will do its upmost to guarantee that the other side will lose. We gave them power—we encouraged their behavior—every time we voted, every time we raised our fist in support or condemnation of candidates who promised to govern in our best interest but only answer to and serve those who finance their duplicitous endeavors.

Before air traffic controllers took to towers to help pilots make their way to and from airports safely, we all learned that as the pilot in command, we alone are ultimately responsible for the safety of our flight, to see and avoid other airplanes that could compromise this sacred responsibility, something we all too eagerly surrender to others, whether they be in an air traffic control tower or an elected office.

If we’re not happy with the world we have created with our votes and political support, only we can change it by seeing and avoiding those who have done our bidding and brought us to today’s place in history. Changing course, if that’s what we as a collective whole really want, will take time. We didn’t create this problem overnight, so we will not rectify the situation as quickly as we might like.

Time will tell if we have the gumption to summon and sustain the unified focus and the willingness to sacrifice in the name of compromise because we accept that in zero-sum situations, we all lose. In the meantime, let’s stay safe out there. As we should when flying to and from any airport when VFR, we should have our heads up and rotating, systematically searching our surroundings for traffic on an unfortunate trajectory. (This essential see & avoid maneuver should work as well when it comes to those who want to serve as our elected officials.)  And if it’s been awhile since you’ve flown to a nontowered airport, before you fly, add this to your preflight planning:  Aeronautical Information Manual, Section 3—Airport Operations. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Pilot Population & Demographic Stability

By Scott Spangler on March 20th, 2013 | 17 Comments »

Most pilots know that the test of an airplane’s dynamic stability is to trim for a specific hands-off speed, increase or decrease pitch to a faster or slower speed, then let go of the stick and measure the time it takes to resume the hands-off speed. It’s my contention that seeking its demographic stability is what the U.S population has been doing since 1980, when it peaked at 827,000 active aviators. That also happens to be the year that the last Baby Boomers, born in 1964, became old enough to solo.

Working in round numbers, the first of 76 million Baby Boomers were born in 1946. They were old enough to get a private certificate in 1963. I wasn’t able to find the number of active pilots that year, but it probably wasn’t much more than 1964’s 431,000. Certainly, we Boomers aren’t the sole source of the rapidly increasing population, but as were in other facets of the American demographic landscape, we were the dominant variable.

As we came of age, the pilot population blossomed like flowers in spring. By 1969, when Boomers ranged in age from 23 to 5, there were 720,000 pilots. Over the next decade the population climbed in five-figure steps to its peak in 1980, when they ranged from 36 to 16. The decline that started then is, most likely, the retirement of pilots of the Greatest Generation, born between 1901 and 1924, and the so-called Silent Generation, born between 1925 and 1945.

And now it’s our turn. Until 2005, given a point or two fluctuation, Boomers accounted for more than half of the pilot population. That changed in 2006, when the first Boomers turned 60. After our self-inflicted economic melt-down, the Boomer’s representation fell to 43 percent of all pilots. In 2011, it was 40 percent. With 8,000 of us turning 60 every day, and the uncertain financial world in which we one day hope to retire, I expect this trend will continue with increasing speed.

Where the pilot population will find its demographic stability is anyone’s guess. Looking at the succeeding generations and their financial futures and opportunities, my guess is 300,000 or less.

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Air France 447 and Sleep Deprivation: A Fatal Link

By Robert Mark on March 17th, 2013 | 8 Comments »

windowslivewritertest-f9b2ontherecordlogo182.gif

Every journalist who has writtten in the past few years about the 2009 Air France accident has eventually ended up asking the same question … why did an experienced crew react to the weather the way they did, as well as to the failure of some of the flight instruments aboard the A330 and why did none of them recognize that their airplane was falling from the sky.

Now we might have at least one of the answers; sleep deprivation. The National Sleep Foundation reports sleep deprivation can impair a person’s reaction times and performance even more than alcohol consumption. The more significant the deprivation, the greater the impairment.

The French news magazine Le Point broke a story on Saturday based on a transcript of the Air France 447′s cockpit voice recorder that until now was unknown. Le Point reports Captain Marc DuBois telling his two cockpit crewmembers less than two hours after departure from Rio, “I didn’t sleep enough last night. One hour – it’s not enough.” Another story in Saturday’s Mail Online said the two co-pilots also lacked adequate rest before the Rio to Paris flight began on the evening May 31, 2009. Flight crew rest, especially for pilots traveling across multiple times zones as was the Air France crew, has become the focus of major regulatory actions in both the U.S. and Europe over the past few years. The revelations about the fatigued states of these pilot before they began what would have been a 10-hour flight to Paris are certain to alter how the industry evaluates the amount of rest any flightcrew has had prior to takeoff. Read the rest of this entry »

Cash for Towers: You Can help

By Robert Mark on March 13th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Still Time to Save Some Towers — Straight off the massive printing presses at the General Aviation Airport Coalition in Washington comes late word that a deal is in the works to pull some cash from one place and send it somewhere else. What’s new about that push is it might just keep some of the busiest control towers in the nation alive and kicking … at least until the end of September. Now get busy and call … no time left for writing.

Rob Mark, Publisher

Mar 13 poster

Empty Charter Jets Going Everywhere

By Robert Mark on March 11th, 2013 | Comments Off

Realizing that I wouldn’t be able to attend the annual Air Charter Safety Foundation’s Safety Symposium (ACSF) in Washington last week got me thinking about how little publiscize charter jets at a transportation assett. For those unfamiliar with the concept, aircraft charter is essentially a commercial service operation using business jets … Falcons, Global Express, Citation etc.

Dassault Falcon 7X

Dassault Falcon 7X

Just like a taxi or a limo, a charter jets or turboprops will pick the passengers up at virtually any airport and deliver them precisely where they need to go at precisely the time they want, usually avoiding the major airline airports too. Best of all, the customer pays a flat price for the airplane whether it carries two passengers or six. That’s why, just like a traditional business jet, chartered airplanes wear the “time machine” moniker like a badge of customer service excellence. A chartered aircraft offers customers all the conveniences of their own aircraft without the overhead worries.

Of course, someone does need to keep the operational costs of a $30 million airplane in mind. That job falls to the charter company itself, of which there are more than 2,500 in the U.S. alone according to the FAA. That means thousands of chartered airplanes flying each week, sometimes on a one-way basis because that‘s what the customer needs. And in this business, the customer decides how the service will operate.

The downside for the charter operator though is that if they are based in Chicago and the customer pays only for the one-way trip to Dallas, the aircraft is now stuck on the ground with no paying passengers 1,000 miles from home. Sure the aircraft and the crew could simply wait in Dallas for the next charter to be booked, but those crew and aircraft parking costs can add up pretty quickly. Of course the cost of returning the aircraft to its home base empty means the charter company must absorb the entire cost of that return trip.

If filling an empty flight leg is the problem, the solution is a private aircraft charter broker, a company that can help sell that empty one-way leg back to Chicago to someone in Dallas or another nearby city, thereby easing the cost burdens for almost everyone. Brokers even know how to help the aircraft owner determine how close to the home base the aircraft can fly and still make the trip worthwhile. For instance, what if the customer in Dallas doesn’t want to fly to Chicago, but really to go only as far as Indianapolis or Detroit? Read the rest of this entry »

Adventure Dominates Memorable Records

By Scott Spangler on March 4th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

As the official keeper of US aviation world records, the National Aeronautic Association each year lists the previous year’s most memorable records ratified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). Most years the most memorable are pretty mundane, incremental gains in speed and altitude by aircraft that earn their keep in commercial service. While important achievements, they lack a real sense of adventure.

13hangglide1-articleLarge-v2[1]Which is why 2012 was a banner year. Leading the list is Felix Baumgartner’s 4-minute, 20-second, 119,431-foot freefall that topped out at 843 mph. His supersonic fall not only broke Joe Kittinger’s 1962 record, he set another record online with millions worldwide who watched him set the record live (and I didn’t get a lot of work done that day), and millions continue to watch it on YouTube.

No less remarkable is the indoor 1-minute, 5.1 second flight of the Gamera II, the University of Maryland’s human-powered helicopter. Flying a straight-line distance of 474 miles seems unremarkable, unless you do it like Dustin Martin did, with a Wills Wing T2C hang glider, in 11 hours. What most don’t know is that Martin was competing with another pilot, Jonny Durand, on what was essentially a flight of two. (The New York Times did a riveting piece on their flight.)

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Sequestration & Our DOT Secretary

By Robert Mark on February 28th, 2013 | Comments Off

I was reading NATCA President Paul Rinaldi‘s remarks yesterday from his luncheon talk at the Washington Aero Club in advance of Friday’s “end of the world” or “no big deal” sequestration day depending on whom you believe . Pretty nice timing for a labor advocate to attend a DC forum to detail the industry ills that may be in store for us thanks to sequestration.

Towers may close, controllers may be taking unpaid days off and the flying public may well see the National Airspace System grind along much slower than usual. Of course, despite the rhetoric, my FAA sources tell me the details of what facilities will actually shut down, for how long and beginning when hasn’t yet been set in stone (late news now says some airports such as ORD may experience controller shortages after April 1) But still, what a mess. We really needed just a little more uncertainty in this industry didn’t we?

US_House_Committee - jetwhine.comNo matter which side of the aisle you support however, you must agree that Congress created this mess. Trouble is we’re the ones who will experience the pain, not them, despite the lofty speeches from outgoing DOT Secretary Ray LaHood trying to sound as if he feels our pain. Oh please. His inability to take a stand for our industry is part of the reason we’re in this mess. Read the rest of this entry »

GA’s Future Depends on Recalibrated Desires

By Scott Spangler on February 25th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

As Baby Boomers march into retirement in increasing numbers, there’s an opportunity for general aviation and its surviving participants to recalibrate their desires and define the future of personal flight. It all hinges on flying clubs, which better use expensive resources by sharing the costs and providing emotional support.

Grounf effect

Ground Effect’s founders (L-R), Louis Bowers, Marc Epner, Todd McClamroch, & Al Waterloo

A new group, Ground Effect Advisors, is promoting flying clubs with a scholarship and a website resource, StartAFlyingClub.com. What separates this group and its efforts to ensure GA’s future is its focus. Accepting the fact that trying to rebuild GA one pilot at at time doesn’t work, as many programs in the past have proven, GEA is taking a new tack by exploiting the multifaceted potential of flying clubs. Its success will depend on the motivation and tenacity of the people who start and support each of them across the nation.

Baby Boomers, who still dominate the pilot population, bemoan the demise of the general aviation they grew up with, but we must all accept that 21st century economic and societal realities no longer support the 2oth century Me Generation stereotype of one pilot-one airplane. Really, few of us today can afford our own winged financial hemophiliac, let alone the hourly expense of feeding it 50 hours (or less) of gas and oil every year.

Pining for the past won’t change the future; it will only cut it short. Flying will continue to become more expensive, just as it has since the 1980s, when middle class income and buying power started to erode. And nothing is going to magically inspire the Boomers’ kids and grandkids to start flying. While many think it’s cool, it takes way too much time and effort.

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Kite-flying Canadian Dances in the Sky

By Scott Spangler on February 13th, 2013 | 4 Comments »
Ray Bethell choreographs three kites’ ballet on an azure stage.

Kites were our first form of flight, and they played a crucial role in the Wright brothers’ quest for powered flight. Since then, the relentless pursuit of pragmatic progress has squeezed the soul-nurturing beauty from flight and made kites little more than playthings. Certainly the appreciation for pure flight in any form still evokes passion in many of us, and envy, as we watch the exquisite skill of a true master.

Ray Bethell was born the year Lindbergh flew the Atlantic. A gynecologist in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, he and his wife were on vacation in Hawaii in 1980, where a kite flyer inspired him. Without a mentor or tutor, “I learned from my mistakes,” he said in a 2007 documentary. “Mistakes are okay, if you don’t make them twice,” he concluded, good advice for any pilot.

Seven years after his inspiration, a rare, one-in-a-million virus took his hearing one night while he slept. Flying became evermore important, and he refined his gentle touch and skill at flying three kites at once, one in each hand and the third connected to his belt. His aerial ballet, accompanied by the Flower Duet from Lakme by Delibes, is mesmerizing. Only when he lands each kite at the end is it clear that his mastery of his mode of flight should be the relentless endeavor of us all. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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A Future View of UAV Safety & Surveillance

By Scott Spangler on February 7th, 2013 | 13 Comments »
The 1.8 gigapixel looks at 20 square miles at once.

Comments on last week’s post on UAVs focused on safety and privacy, and rightly so. Most offered valid examples of why UAVs won’t work today, and I won’t argue because I agree. At the same time, I can see how UAVs will safely integrate with populated aircraft in the not too distant future. As for the privacy concerns, watch the video, and then we’ll talk.

The 1.8 gigapixel ARGUS-IS sensor is impressive, isn’t it. Imagine, a 20-square-mile view with the ability to focus on objects as small as 6 inches in 65 different windows while not losing the larger view. Each UAV equipped with this system streams a million terabytes of data, equal to 5,000 hours of video, a day.

It sounds threatening and scary until you think about who’s going to watch it. Don’t give the government too much credit. It’s as disorganized and dysfunctional as any civilian operation. I’m sure the government workers at all levels only wish their technology was as cutting edge and capable of finding and displaying needle in the haystack aerial surveillance video in any multiple of the time it takes in the movies.

As for safely integrating UAVs into a sky filled with populated planes, remember one word: NextGen. Yes, I know, it is not yet fully operational and it has its problems, but like the antiquated ATC technology we now depend on, engineers will work all the bugs out NextGen.

If you dig into the NextGen systems that keep everyone from bumping into each other in positive control airspace, it’s easy to see that the only real difference between a populated plane and UAV is where the pilot sits, cockpit or cubicle. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Move Past LaHood … and the Sooner the Better

By Robert Mark on February 4th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

LaHoodSometimes the best action is to take none, which is precisely the route I chose last week when many people were falling over themselves to tell outgoing Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood how much they appreciated his past four years on the job. No criticism on my part for their actions though. Industry groups do what they have to do to operate successfully in DC.

Me, I’m just glad LaHood is on the way out. LaHood was an Illinois Congressman before President Obama plucked him off the Hill in 2009 to watch over the transportation industry. His transportation experience at the time … service on the House transportation and infrastructure committee.

While LaHaood was awash in accolades last week for his consumer work, I’d suggest everyone take a deep breath and look at the record. The consumer protections of the Don’t leave passengers sitting all night on an airline ramp without food or water Bill actually evolved because of the lobbying efforts of one lady mostly — Kate Hanni of Flyers Rights.org, not Mr. LaHood. And to credit LaHood with a win because delays are down is beyond silly. Overall air traffic is down nearly 30% since 9/11 for starters. Then of course, the flyers rights bill convinced airlines it was easier to cancel flights when the weather threatened, also leading to less traffic. LaHood had nothing to do with any of that.

And let’s not forget his brilliant Future of Aviation Advisory Committee (FAAC) in 2010, designed to provide leadership and vision to the industry. Great PR for the Secretary, but tell me what the work of all those experts actually accomplished? Our president still thinks business airplanes are toys and should pay accordingly. Thanks for that Ray. And as to that recent FAA reversal of strategy on Boeing’s 787  – first the airplane was safe, but in need of a top to bottom certification review and then a week later the airplane was grounded because it wasn’t safe? Those moves didn’t come from FAA. They had LaHood’s fingerprints all over them.

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Is Rise of Civilian Drones Accelerating?

By Scott Spangler on January 28th, 2013 | 11 Comments »

Many would not expect a prediction of aviation’s future on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, but there it was on January 23. The guest, Missy Cummings, one of the Navy’s first female F-18 drivers and now an association professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, said within five or 10 years that FedEx and UPS would be carrying packages with unmanned aerial vehicles.

Watching the extended Cummings interview online, she supported this possibility with the accurate observations that airliners flying today are UAVs whose pilots push buttons and program the flight management system from the cockpit rather than some strip-mall cubicle. And this plays right into a previous post about the FAA SAFO urging pilots to get hands-on with more than buttons and switches.

Always a well-prepared interviewer, Stewart focused on the military mission of UAV because that is their most visible mission. Cummings countered with civilian and humanitarian missions. One she is working on for the Navy is a rescue helicopter that those in need can summon to their remote location with a smart phone. Stewart was understandably skeptical, until Cummings told him about the Navy’s Cargo Resupply Unmanned Aerial System. Shown above, the K-Max helo has delivered cargo to remotest Afghanistan by the millions of tons.

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Chicago Meigs Field (CGX) is Dead … Really

By Robert Mark on January 22nd, 2013 | 83 Comments »

doldNot long ago, I had a chance to visit some old friends here in Chicago when I took the family down to a few of the Chicago museums on the east edge of downtown. Having survived 12 years of the Chicago Public School system, I know the former field-trip destination pretty well. The museum campus, as they call it nowadays, is the central stop for visitors to the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium … and a small local park at Northerly Island edged right up to the lakefront near the McCormick Place Convention Center.

The Chicago Field Museum last week also happened to be the site of a Chicago Tribune forum on the Future of Chicago. The Tribune’s editorial director Bruce Dold sat down for an hour-long chat with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former Chief of Staff. Always the big mouth, I managed to ask an aviation question at the session about Northerly Island and the airport that used to sit there, Chicago Meigs Field (CGX).

CGX1

The old control tower at Meigs sits idle, still waiting for airplanes.

A Little History — But first a few facts for those of you too young to remember Meigs.

Despite having grown up in the Second City, I never realized Northerly Island was the site of the 1933 World’s Fair, called the Century of Progress, to celebrate Chicago’s hundred-year birthday. The name became a little more famous to me in the early 80′s when I worked as an air traffic controller at Meigs Field. I also remember one of my early charter pilot landings there in a Citation on runway 18 scaring the cr** out of me, but I’ll save that story for another day.

But it really wasn’t til 1995 when I met another local pilot — Steve Whitney — at an aviation event in one of Chicago’s north suburbs that the impact of Northerly Island really took hold. I saw Steve sitting alone behind a little table with a few photos and a sign that said, “Save Meigs Field.” He’d formed an organization called, “The Friends of Meigs Field (FOM),” which I’d never heard of at the time. But I listened to his pitch. He spoke passionately and politically about how the City of Chicago wanted to close the airport to build a park, which as a city resident I found pretty odd. The city had miles of lakefront parks already. I learned that the Chicago Park District actually owned Northerly Island … and they wanted it back from the biz jet pilots. I learned Chicago Mayor Richard Daley had a thing about aviation. He just didn’t care. He didn’t like little airplanes messing up his skyline views. Only later did I realize that he really didn’t even care about the airlines or business aviation either … just the money they contributed to his city coffers. But Daley was also a powerful Democrat not just locally, but nationally. He was not to be fooled with.

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Aviation Safety: What Has Become of Us?

By Scott Spangler on January 14th, 2013 | 22 Comments »

Oh, the irony of progress.

In 2005, the FAA issued its first Safety Alert for Operators, “an information tool that alerts, educates, and makes recommendations to the aviation community [that] includes air carrier certificate holders, fractional ownership program managers, and 14 CFR Part 142 training centers.” There’s no irony in this, or the next paragraph:

“Each SAFO contains important safety information and may contain recommended actions. SAFO content should be especially valuable to air carriers in meeting their statutory duty to provide service with the highest possible degree of safety in the public interest. The information and recommendations in a SAFO are often time critical.”

Here’s the irony: SAFO 13002 (released last week) is dedicated to Manual Flight Operations. Why? I’ll let the FAA explain: “A recent analysis of flight operations data (including normal flight operations, incidents, and accidents) identified an increase in manual handling errors. The [FAA] believes maintaining and improving the knowledge and skills for manual flight operations is necessary for safe flight operations.”

In other words, the FAA is saying that failure of the flight management system and autopilot is now a critical in-flight emergency that demands special training and practice: flying an airplane by hand. Many are aghast at this recommendation, but they shouldn’t be. Technology has so infiltrated flight that “manual flight” is only the latest of a number of similar recommendations the FAA has made since it created SAFOs in 2005.

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